Mozart Complete Piano Sonatas
Daniel-Ben Pienaar couldn’t have begun better, not by playing but by saying, “It is inescapable that a performance practice for these works that engages the instrument’s full expressive potential needs to look beyond easy categories of ‘authentic’, or ‘modern’ or ‘historically informed’”. Quite – but that’s not all, so do read his booklet-note first.
One factor strikes immediately: there is not a whiff of bygone reverential, even obsequious attitudes to Mozart that still cast faint shadows among some pianists. Pienaar is therefore “modern” in his discernment of the music. But – how about this for a 19th-century throwback? – Pienaar de-synchronises his hands, though selectively so.
Effects are clear in, for example, the Fantasia, K475. The fractional hiatus between left and right underpins the harmony in the first and third bars; and a similar hiatus in the D major section (2'25") lends added expression to its contrasting calmness. The staggered articulation is no mere anachronism. It becomes a subtle aspect of a range of expression Pienaar uses to penetrate music “very rich in activity, rich in personality and topoi”. Point and purpose explained. And totally disdained is “the facile stereotype of Mozart as the epitome of elegance”.
Of the utmost importance in conveying convictions is Pienaar’s strong, independent left hand. It tightens harmonic tension and supports rather than accompanies treble lines. Be it high drama or lyrical contemplation, Pienaar scans phrases with a fluidity that releases the music from rhythmic inertia. Ignore the odd insignificant pianistic smudge, because keyboard prowess is formidable. But as his performance of the Alla turca Sonata, K331, shows, technique isn’t allowed to edge ahead of emotional and intellectual depth. A much-mistreated piece emerges in a different light. Pienaar pays attention to the oft-forgotten grazioso element in the first movement, eschews metrical stiffness in the Minuet, yields to the Trio’s distinctive flow and refuses to turn the March into a janissary bash. Extend such thoughtful, profound probity to the whole set and you have interpretations where within the letter critically observed, a numinous potency breaks free. Momentous Mozart.